If you’re buying a new or used car, there’s something you’re likely overlooking — buying tires. Sure, if you’re looking at a nice, certified, low-miles Chevrolet Corvette, you’ll likely check the tires for signs of abuse or a performance rating. But if you’re looking at a new minivan or used Nissan Versa, you’ve probably not given the wheels and tires much thought — but you should.
The main reason is that tires can be expensive. Spending $1,000 for a set of tires on a "normal" car isn’t unusual. One thing you can do to limit this expense is look for a car with wheels that are 18 inches or less. Many luxury cars, luxury SUVs and even high trim level non-luxury brands have 21 or even 22-in wheels. The car may be a bargain, but the tires will likely be expensive to replace — think of a high-mileage Cadillac Escalade or a 10-year-old Nissan Z. Same goes for new cars, opting for the "Platinum Edition" might mean LED headlights and cool-looking wheels, but make sure there’s not an expensive surprise waiting when you do need new tires a few years down the road.
We found that just moving up two wheel sizes (from 17-in to 19-in) could be a difference of $40 per tire or even much more depending on the car and brand of tire.
We tried Tire Rack to see how that process works. For years, I’ve heard a friend say how easy it is, but I’ve never used any online source to buy tires simply because I felt I don’t know enough about tires to make a good decision — then they ship them and I’m stuck with the wrong thing and may have to ship them back.
Tire Rack does make it kind of hard to mess up. You have to know the year, make and model of your car and your zip code. The only thing I think some people might have a hard time with the drop-down menu for a specific car — a snowstorm a few years ago in Atlanta convinced me that the average person simply doesn’t know basic things like if they have two or all-wheel drive. In terms of the overall experience, Discount Tire has the next best experience overall.
One thing that’s really helpful is a tire "decision guide" that asks you to rate the importance of certain tire qualities — things like "snow traction," "dry road handling," "wear," and "comfort." Certainly, the average person will know if they drive in the snow a lot or not. There’s even a short text blurb that gives advice on your area. Mine said this:
"North Georgia stats: 49.7 inches of rain on average each year.
Mother Nature doesn’t make it easy on you! We recommend making Wet Road Handling your top priority so you’ll see tires that are right for you. Stay safe, friends."
For a 2018 Nissan Rogue SL FWD, the decision guide led us to a set of "BF Goodrich Advantage TA Sport LT." Price per tire was $185 plus tax. Shipping was free.
We asked Tire Rack if this step or process is necessary. Here’s what they said:
"Like the way many things in life should work, tires and how they impact driving can be something quite different from tire to tire, and for driver to driver, region to region, and vehicle to vehicle. From our beginnings, we have striven to be experts in all things tires, understand their contribution to the driving experience, be fully aware of each tire’s strengths and shortfalls, and guide our customers to selecting the one that’s right for them. Hopefully, they’ll be happy with their tires for the next 3+ years of their daily ownership experience — Woody Rogers, Product Information Specialist at Tire Rack."
It’s a little thing but many other online tire retail sites don’t have this depth of information or an experience that as easy to navigate. True, you could go to each tire maker’s website individually, but that kind of assumes you know a few things about which tires are best, what those names are, etc. Tire Rack has all that info in one place, similar to how Autotrader gathers new, used and CPO cars from all over the country for shoppers to browse in one place. If you feel a little lost about what tires are right for your car based on where you live, using Tire Rack will give you a little extra confidence.
But is Tire Rack mainly about saving time or saving money? We compared prices on a set of tires (then actually had them installed) on a few discount tire web sites and found the Tire Rack prices to be comparable or slightly lower than others.
We also used the "Ship to Installer" feature on Tire Rack. One interesting thing about this is that not every tire shop in your area is an approved installer. I live in a fairly dense suburban area and ended up getting a shop, National Tire and Battery (NTB), that was about four miles from my home. There were other tire stores closer. Regarding installer selection, Tire Rack said:
"We look at the density of coverage in the area, areas of speciality, price to service ratio as a value proposition for the customer. We won’t just add shops that fit the criteria unless they are delivering something established shops don’t. Brian’s area north of Atlanta is very well covered by a mix of fixed locations and mobile installers. We have a team actively working with installers every day, monitoring quality and customer feedback, etc."
Overall, it was a positive experience and I will probably end up going back to that NTB shop even for work other than buying or installing new tires. One thing to note, the Tire Rack price for tires does not include the installation cost and adding new tire pressure monitor hardware (newer cars only) is extra, but optional. It’s strongly recommended but still, you can opt to re-use some of the old parts.
As far as the tires go, the Tire Rack decision guide helped a lot. The BF Goodrich tires we had installed are perfect for the climate and are where the car is used. The Advantage TA tire are high in comfort so they’re not too hard, but also have large channels for dispersing water since it does rain quite a bit in Atlanta. They also have good dry pavement handling providing more grip than the standard tires that came with the car new. Again, these are the tires the Tire Rack experience led me to, I didn’t pick them myself or search by brand. Just as a point of reference, BF Goodrich tires are consistently highly rated by buyers. One site had an 85% rate of "would buy them again."
In the end, the effortlessness that led me to a very good tire given the car and area of the country shows that Tire Rack is worth trying, especially if you don’t know anything about buying tires.